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Secrets of a great demo

It shouldn't come as a surprise to know that I'm often asked to give advice on giving an effective product demonstration. There are, of course, a few basic rules of thumb that guide any product demo:

• Know your audience.
• Keep it simple.
• Be passionate about the product.
• Avoid hokey scenarios.
• Show features that point to the product's main value proposition
• Practice, practice, practice.

These are the top-line criteria for a good demo. The devil, of course, is in the details. That's where so many product demonstrations – on stage at DEMO or onsite with a customer –often go wrong. These details are the stuff of custom training and consulting sessions that a few smart product managers seek out somewhere in the days before the first press tour is due to begin.

So when Howard Greenfield slipped me a copy of Peter E. Cohan's book, "Great Demo!", I was hopeful that I'd come across a reliable resource. And, indeed, it is. (You can find it here at

The 283-page book is full of practical advice and exercises to help a product team "create and execute stunning software demonstrations" (as the subtitle claims). In fact, much of the text is pretty common sense. In an early chapter on "Why Do Demos Fail?", Cohan lists a couple dozen points, including "too boring," and "no point to the story." Common sense, but as one who sits through hundreds of product demonstrations each year, I guarantee you that common sense isn't that common.
The book is a quick read and, I'd argue, a must-read for product marketing managers. It will certainly help focus and organize the presentation, and it may just have some added benefit. Many of Cohan's exercises are "What if?" questions that stimulate thinking beyond the task of creating a product demo, and the axioms that fill the book offer far-reaching advice. (One example: "Axiom: Bias the prioritization of your To Do List with respect to the needs and interests of your initial contacts or high-ranking audience members." Seems like good advice generally.)

With DEMOfall 2006 just five months away, "Great Demo!" is a timely discovery. If you plan to pitch to me – or more importantly to a potential new customer, you'd do well to pick up a copy of this book.

Chris Shipley is the executive producer of NetworkWorld's DEMO Conferences, Editor of DEMOletter and a technology industry analyst for nearly 20 years. She can be reached at Shipley, has covered the personal technology business since 1984 and is regarded as one of the top analysts covering the technology industry today. Shipley has worked as a writer and editor for variety of technology consumer magazines, including PC Week, PC Magazine, PC/Computing, and InfoWorld, US Magazine and Working Woman. She has written two books on communications and Internet technology, has won numerous awards for journalistic excellence, and was named the No. 1 newsletter editor by Marketing Computers for two years in a row. To subscribe to DEMOletter please visit:

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The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.

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